EL PASO, Texas – Antonio Basco, overwhelmed by loneliness and grief after his wife, Margie Reckard, was killed in a mass shooting on Aug. 3, invited the El Paso community to come to her prayer service Friday night. The response shocked Basco, but probably not most El Pasoans.
“Thank you, thank you,” Basco said softly as he arrived at the La Paz funeral home, clearly taken aback by the thousands of people who lined up for several blocks to pay their respects.
People in line repeatedly said they came to show Basco and the world something important about the Texas border city of almost 700,000.
“I just wanted to show my support because here in El Paso, we’re just a family,” said Alexandra Garcia, who works at a movie theater and attends New Mexico State University. “When (the shooting) happened, it’s one of my own people, you know.”
The crowd that wrapped around the funeral home was a cross section of El Paso – a mostly Hispanic group, young and old, dressed in suits and dresses, blue jeans and work shirts, zoot suits, motorcycle club colors and military dress uniforms.
That cultural richness is celebrated by El Pasoans but despised by the man accused of killing 22 people and wounding dozens more at a Walmart two weeks earlier. Police have said the gunman drove more than 10 hours from a Dallas suburb to target Hispanics and immigrants.
“We come out here to support our community because what transpired over at Walmart will not be condoned,” said a biker and Army veteran who goes by Geronimo. He was at the funeral home with other motorcycle club members to form a line of American flags.
Many people waited more than three hours in near 100-degree heat to get inside the funeral home. A local restaurant brought enchiladas, tacos and beans to serve people as they waited.
Once inside, people passed slowly through, listening to prayers, singers and mariachis. Hundreds of flower arrangements from around the world were arrayed around the chapel, their aroma detectable to even those waiting outside.
“I’ve been in the government for 25 years, and I’ve been in a lot of investigations that involve mass shootings and mass casualties, and I’ve never seen the show of support like I am seeing here today,” said Daniel Ramos, the assistant special agent in charge of the El Paso FBI office.
Nearly two weeks after the shooting, Reckard’s service likely marks the final mass mourning ceremony for a community that now turns to the hard work of healing, recovering and answering the deadliest attack on Hispanics in the nation’s history.
“Each day that goes by we’re going to get stronger and stronger,” said Juan Solis, a Marine veteran who was part of the bikers’ American flag display outside the funeral home. “We’re going to be an example for the rest of the country that it doesn’t matter what religion we are, what race we are. We’re all humans. And El Paso is one brotherhood and sisterhood.”
Tony Tomasheski, the chief executive of the Boys and Girls Club of El Paso, said he’s focused on the trauma suffered by El Paso children.
“Children have a lot of different emotions. Sometimes they’re afraid of, is this going to happen to me or is my mom going to be safe and those kinds of pieces,” he said.
Tomasheski said reassuring children requires “reinforcing over and over that as long as you’re with us you’re going to be safe. Tragedy will happen, but we will always come together, and we will support each other, and we will make sure that you are safe, and you will make sure that we are safe.”
State Rep. Joe Moody, a Democrat whose district is El Paso County and serves as speaker pro tem of the Texas House of Representatives, said El Paso is still grieving and fearful.
“I think it’s things like this that take the sadness and the fear away and give you hope,” he said while standing with his 3-year-old son Preston outside the funeral home. “These are the things we need to start to turn the corner. Not that we’ll ever forget the sadness and the fear, but to be able to make the future that we want for our community and for everyone else.”
Moody said people ask him about legislation and policies he would support in response to the El Paso massacre.
“I can file a lot of bills, but I can’t file a bill to teach love and to end racism and hate. You can just be an example for that,” Moody said. “What I want to come of this is for people to understand why the hateful language can have a real effect, and it’s not something we can take lightly. We should all be accountable for the way we treat one another.”
Reckard, the woman who brought thousands of El Pasoans together on a Friday night, will be buried Saturday morning at a cemetery in her adopted hometown. Next week, she would have celebrated her 64th birthday.
Basco, her husband of 22 years, is now a widower. He invited the community to the service because he said he had no family in El Paso.
“We’re your family,” El Pasoans told him repeatedly Friday night.